YEARS of hard work and battling against the odds have earned their reward with Sheffield Eagles appearance in the Championship Grand Final.
The game against Featherstone Rovers is the biggest since the ‘old Eagles’ beat Wigan in the Challenge Cup in 1998.
But for coach Mark Aston its not about reliving past glories – he’s concerned with now and the future.
“I won’t be mentioning Wigan and Wembley,” said Aston. “This is about Sheffield Eagles 2011 and what the players have done this season.”
Getting to the Grand Final fulfils one of the criteria for making a bid for a Super League ‘licence’ in three years. Now the club must concentrate on doubling average attendances at Bramall Lane to above 2,500 to tick another of the key boxes.
The stage for Sunday’s game may be the Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington, not Wembley, but as in 1998 Eagles will be massive underdogs.
Featherstone won the Championship leaders’ shield after losing only one game during the league season – beating the Eagles home and away.
Rovers won’t lack motivation – they have the hurt of losing last season’s Grand Final to Halifax to avenge.
That doesn’t worry Aston after his team came through three play-off rounds against Widnes, Halifax and Leigh.
“Featherstone can be favourites, that’s less pressure on us,” said Aston. “We weren’t given much chance in the play-offs but we beat three good teams.
“The boys are playing great rugby and have put a lot in during the last weeks and have made a statement and it’s going to take a massive team to stop us.”
The 20-10 win at Leigh in the semi-final last week will have sent a message to Featherstone’s coach Daryl Powell who played over 300 games for the Eagles.
Leigh were never allowed into the game by an outstanding defensive performance. Tries were always going to be at a premium but Menzie Yere, back after a two-match ban, provided the power to break the line and sent winger Vinny Finigan in for the try that tipped the balance in the second half.
But for the Final the Eagles will be without the Papua New Guinea star, who picked up a second two-match ban for dangerous play in the Leigh game.
Norfolk Park teenager Corey Hanson is likely to replace Yere in the centres, with long-serving Jonny Woodcock being recalled to the subs’ bench.
Old Eagles team-mates and now coaches Powell and Aston will go head-to-head for the biggest prize outside the Super League.
Aston said: “I’m sure Daryl will know he’s in for a tough game. It’s come down to a two-horse race on Sunday and it’ll be close.”
n Sunday’s Grand Final is live on Sky Sports, kick-off 4pm.